The Maniloff Family

The strange gentleman had been living in the town for more than a week, going about to evening parties, dinners, and having a very good time of it as people say, when he decided to pay certain visits out of town; for instance, to go and see the landowners Maniloff and Sobakevitch, as he had promised. Selifan, his coachman, was ordered to harness the horses to the well-known britchka early in the morning, while Petrushka was ordered to stay at home, and look after the room and the trunk. The reader already knows that Petrushka wore a rather loose, light-brown surtout, which had belonged to his master, and that, according to the custom with people of his class, he had a very thick nose and thick lips. In character he was reserved, not talkative, and he was even possessed of a noble desire for culture—that is to say, he delighted in reading books. The character of these books was a secondary matter; it was all the same to him whether the work recounted the adventures of a love-enslaved hero, whether it was an ABC book, or a breviary; he read everything with equal attention. If any one had offered him a volume of chemistry he would not have refused it. It was not so much what he read, as the process of reading, that pleased him. He enjoyed the surprise of finding that the letters continually formed some word or other, which at times meant the deuce only knows what. His reading was chiefly accomplished in a recumbent attitude in the ante-room, where he was for ever lying, upon the bedstead and mattress, which became in consequence as flat and as thin as a pancake. In addition to his passion for reading he had two other characteristic traits—he slept without undressing, just as he was, in the same surtout; and he always carried about with him a special atmosphere of his own, a peculiar smell, which corresponded, to some extent, with that of a dwelling-room; so that it sufficed for him merely to install himself somewhere, to take his cloak and belongings there, for people to think that the apartment had been inhabited for fully ten years.

Tchitchikoff, who was very dainty, and even in some respects capricious, frowned when this atmosphere saluted his sensitive nose in the morning, and shook his head, remarking, “The deuce take it, my good fellow, you are sweating. You ought to have a bath.” To this Petrushka made no reply, but immediately busied himself about something, brushed his master’s coat, or simply carried some article away. What did he think while he thus remained silent? Perhaps he said to himself, “You’re nice! Aren’t you tired of repeating the same thing forty times in succession?” God alone knows the truth; it is difficult to find out what a house-serf does think when his master is reading him a lesson. So this is what may be said of Petrushka in the first place.

Tchitchikoff, having given the necessary orders for departure one evening, awoke very early the next morning, washed, wiped himself from head to foot with a damp sponge—which he only did on Sundays, and, indeed that day chanced to be a Sunday—shaved himself in such a way that his cheeks seemed to be real satin in point of smoothness and polish, donned first his cranberry-coloured swallow-tailed coat, and then his cloak lined with long-haired bearskin, and went down-stairs, supported under the arm by the inn-servant. He seated himself in his britchka, which rolled through the gates of the tavern into the street with a great noise. A pope (priest), who was passing, removed his hat; some small boys in dirty blouses extended their hands, saying, “Give alms to the orphans, master!” and the coachman, perceiving that one of them was hanging on behind the carriage, cracked his whip at him; whereupon the britchka went jolting over the stones. It was with delight that Tchitchikoff beheld in the distance the striped turnpike-bar, which announced that there would soon be an end to the pavement as to all other torture; and indeed after striking his head a few times with considerable force against the carriage frame he was at length borne out upon the soft soil. No sooner was the town left behind than upon both sides of the road appeared hillocks, fir-woods, plantations of young pines, the charred trunks of old ones, some wild heather, and so on. Our traveller passed villages stretched out in a line, in architecture resembling piles of firewood, the houses being covered with grey roofs, with carved wooden ornaments beneath them. Some moujiks in their sheepskin jackets, and yawning as usual, were seated on benches outside the gates. Women with fat faces and closely bound bosoms gazed from the upper windows; from the lower ones a calf peeped, or else a pig thrust out his snout. In short, the views were the customary ones. Having covered fifteen versts, Tchitchikoff recollected that, according to Maniloff’s account, his estate must be situated somewhere about there; however, the sixteenth-verst stone flew past, and still no village was visible. In fact, had it not been for two moujiks who chanced to come along, our hero would hardly have succeeded in reaching his destination. At the query, “Is it far to Zamanilovka village?” the

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